A Great Opportunity!

Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time – February 24, 2019

Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS

1 Sam. 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; Psalm 103:1-4, 8, 10, 12-13; 1 Cor. 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38

We have a great opportunity coming up! And every year we see this opportunity coming or maybe it just springs itself on us—but every year we have this great opportunity that we call Lent. Now, if you’re anything like me, you hear “Lent” and on the inside you kind of cringe a little bit, you don’t get really excited. You probably think, “Oh no, here it comes again. Can’t eat meat on Fridays, I have to give up sweets, and I’m supposed to go to confession.” So yes, Lent isn’t the easiest part of the year, but I think it is one of the most rewarding parts of the year.

During Advent we are preparing for Christ’s birth, yes, but even more so we are preparing for his Second Coming. Jesus was born two-thousand years ago, and so yes we celebrate and commemorate his birth (of course!), but really, at its core, Advent marks our preparation for the second coming of the Lord. During Lent, during Lent we are preparing for salvation. Sure, yeah, we are preparing for the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection! But remember, we do that every Sunday. Lent gives us the chance to more intentionally prepare for salvation itself.

And so the big question is: well, what is Salvation? “God saving us from our sins. God dying so that we can go to heaven.” And yeah, these answers aren’t wrong, but they’re not entirely helpful. What is salvation? Salvation is Jesus Christ dying and rising from the dead so that we may have the ability to realize ourselves as created in the image and likeness of God. Jesus Christ didn’t have to become man and die so that he could float towards heaven and unlock the gates, because the lock was only on the outside of the gates. No, Jesus Christ became man, suffered, and died, so that we could again have the ability to become what we were always meant to become!

Think back to Adam and Eve. We are told that they were created in the image and likeness of God. And yet because of their sin on behalf of all of humanity, because of their rejection of this gift—because of this we “fell off the track” so to speak. Our development was halted. Eternal life, the fullness of life, was no longer possible. And we couldn’t do anything about it. Humanity was in desperate need of one who could restore them to this, one who could offer a path forward. And that someone is Jesus Christ, God made man. This is what our second reading is all about. We heard, “Just as we have borne the image of the earthly [man, Adam], we shall also bear the image of the heavenly [man, Jesus Christ, God-made-man]” (1 Cor. 15:49). Jesus Christ offers us salvation, the ability to realize what was lost so long ago: the image and likeness of God. And this image of God is really broken down into three main parts: our reason, our freedom, and our ability for authentic, loving relationships. Unlike every other creature, we have the image of God: reason, freedom, and relationship.

So why Lent? Lent started almost two thousand years ago as the period of preparation for those who were going to be baptized. Lent was the final stage of preparation, a period of what was called “Purification and Enlightenment.” So unlike today when we kinda moan when we hear about Lent coming up, originally this was the time when people were getting very excited, very anxious with anticipation. This was the final time of preparation before they would finally be baptized into the death of Christ and rise with him to new and everlasting life! This was the time when the salvation offered by Jesus Christ would be given to them! This was the time when the path to the fullness of life was opened up! And this time was marked by purification and enlightenment.

Purification really just means a deeper conversion, a deeper turning away from sin and toward Christ. Ask yourself, “What is in my life that can’t be in my life if I am going to follow Jesus Christ? What needs to be removed, purified from my life, so that I can follow Jesus Christ?” Think of all of those call scenes in the Gospels: Jesus says, “Go, sell what you have, and then come, follow me.” What is it that we need to “sell,” that which we need to remove from our life so that we can truly follow Jesus Christ as he is calling us to do?

Enlightenment is really about deeper conformity to Christ. Ask yourself, “What are the steps I need to take in order to conform my life more closely to Christ, to follow him, to get closer to him?” Enlightenment is about putting yourself in the position to allow God to make you who you are truly meant to be, to be able to accept the salvation he is offering you. In order to pick something up, your hands have to be free and available.

Lent gets really misunderstood because of the way we usually live it. I mean, for myself, Lent always meant, “No meat on Fridays, no sweets and no desert, go to confession.” You know, it’s the thought of, “Give something up, make a sacrifice, because I have to. Make a sacrifice so that God loves us more, because God loves us more if we suffer apparently.” Or even, “Lent is a great time to start that new diet I’ve been wanting to try.”

But remember, Lent is all about salvation! Lent is about allowing God to give me what he has offered from the beginning. Lent is about using this time to allow God to make me who I am truly meant to be. A time to prepare myself to accept the salvation he offers me. And in order to prepare myself for salvation, in order to prepare myself to realize myself as created in the image and likeness of God, for my reason, freedom and relationality to be brought to the full—for all of this Jesus Christ proposes three things (which we are all very familiar with): prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

Prayer helps to redeem our reason, our mind, our understanding: prayer helps prepare us for the salvation of our reason. The question to ask yourself isn’t, “How many extra rosaries do I have to say?” No, ask yourself, “What is a way I can develop my prayer and reflection on the Lord? What are steps to draw me closer to him?” For example, reading the Gospels for fifteen minutes a day. We are going to be opening the adoration chapel soon, so maybe it is taking an hour of adoration each week. We are also going to have an online retreat with videos and prayers sent to you throughout Lent to help you learn and grow in your faith. But again, what is one concrete way to grow in your prayer, not just one extra prayer to say.

Fasting helps to redeem our freedom: our ability to choose the good, to choose what brings us closer to the Lord, what brings us more life. And so the question isn’t, “Should I give up chocolate or deserts this Lent?” No, the question is, “What kind of fast do you need in your life to help you become more free?” If there is someone in your life who tells you everything to do and you can’t make any decisions for yourself, what does that make you? A slave. And so ask yourself: What can I not say “no” to? What do I spend a lot of time doing that I shouldn’t? If I were to ask my friends and family what I spend too much time doing, what would they say? And the reason you ask this is because these are things that control your life, these are what you are “enslaved” to! You may be able to say “no” to chocolate already! But can you say “no” to checking your phone? Can you say “no” to staying up late and not getting enough sleep? To waking up on time? Can you say “no” to Netflix? Can you say “no” to a whole list of temptations? Because if not, then you are not yet truly free. St. Paul tells us, “For freedom, Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).

Fasting is a practice to help us become more free, it helps us to become more obedient to the Lord, it is a sacrifice of worship (one which says, “Lord, I am not God, you are!”), it allows us to unite our sufferings to the sufferings of Christ for the salvation of the world. So what do you need to fast from? Maybe it is your phone, or Netflix, or Facebook. Maybe you need to fast from hitting the snooze button. Who here has Snapchat? Anyone have a few Snap-streaks going on? Anyone have streaks with someone where you send a black screen with an “S” just to keep it going? Anyone get a little anxious inside if a streak is about to die? Here’s a good fast: let two or three streaks die each week. Let ‘em die. Or better yet, give up Snapchat for Lent. Again, the question is not, “What is something I can give up” The question is, “What controls my life? What do I need to give up to regain control of my freedom.” Because if there is something that you cannot say “no” to, then you cannot truly be free.

Last one: Almsgiving—always the hardest one to think of. Almsgiving helps us to redeem our ability for true, authentic, loving relationship. Almsgiving is asking yourself the question, “How can I bless others? How can I put myself in right-relationship with others? How can I develop real relationships with others?” A classic one is throw extra pennies in a jar for the poor. But does that really help our relationships? No, not really. So what can you do to really, truly develop relationships of love—a relationship where what you do is for the other person’s good, regardless of your own or what they can do for you. Well, giving your time to volunteer is a good example. I know a person that would write a note of gratitude or encouragement to one person every single day of Lent. Again, these are ways that foster our ability to be in relationship with others.

All of our readings today focused on the mercy offered to us by the Lord, and our ability to possess this same kind of love in our lives: to love as the Lord loves, to be merciful just as he himself is merciful. John Paul II said it best when he said, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son” (JPII – Toronto 2002). This Lent, will we receive the Lord’s mercy, receive the salvation he offers us, or will we let it pass us by? Will we embrace our ability to become the image of his Son, to embrace the fullness of life offered to us by Jesus Christ?

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